So, ~133 thousand words later (or more if you count cuts and rewrites) I completed the novel! That was an accomplishment in itself and maybe the most important one. After all, I thought, the goal was to write a novel, not necessarily get it published. However, what drove me to completing this novel was the fact that I thought (and think) it was important. Important enough to try hard to get it published.
I had quite a few people review it, starting with friends that were quite positive even while providing some small number of critical comments. Then I graduated to acquaintances and finally to a local book club. As I advanced into people that knew me less, the criticism grew. The people that made it through the first half-dozen chapters read the entire thing and really loved the story, the plot, and the intriguing idea behind it. But, getting past my writing style proved difficult.
While I was doing that, I also took an on-line class from Writer's Digest. It wasn't an earth-shattering class, but it, along with the reviews, did teach me that there was another level of depth in writing. While my story was great, my "craft" was not.
I decided to go to school to take my writing to a new level.
There are hundreds of on-line programs nowadays in creative writing - and it is very difficult to tell which ones are any good. Given how prevalent they were, I decided to try to go local (to Colorado). There seemed to be two programs with reasonable reputations; one at Colorado State University and one at the University of Denver. The problem with the CSU one was that I had just missed the deadline for the following fall program and they only accepted applications once a year. That meant it would be over a year and a half before I began. Being an impatient person what it comes to making progress, I couldn't accept that. DU on the other hand accepted applications any time and I could start that spring/summer (a few months hence). The cost was similar with most of the universities I looked at, so that was not an issue.
I ended up going with DU and started in the summer of 2010. At this point (spring of 2012), I am almost done with the program. It has been a fairly good program. There are certainly some classes that are less useful that others and the "adviser" is so rigid as to be not only useless, but damaging. But, most of the classes have been useful and I do feel like my writing has improved tremendously.